Editor’s Note: Even after Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act (2014) was struck down, LGBTQ people in country have been facing violent backlash from both the state, and society. Irakowze, a young gay man from Uganda, has faced this first hand. Today, on his twentieth birthday, he reached out to Cake to share his personal story of facing verbal and physical attacks. Irakowze’s story is a stark reminder of the cruel and hard circumstances so many queer individuals face to this day. How can this be allowed to continue? Join us as Cake stands in solidarity with #PrideUganda and share this story so that we can help fight homophobia everywhere.
Sometimes I wake up and I think I am dead. I have to actually let my consciousness settle for a moment.
I am not sure if I am scared of being dead, of dying in my sleep. It would be peaceful and I would be free of the nightmare I am living now. Then I get up. I look around at walls. The headache starts. It’s a dull painful pressure of the small walls, of the flat in Kampala I have been hiding within, narrowing in. Imagine your outward vision narrowing and narrowing, till you are almost looking through a funnel embedded in darkness with a tiny opening for light at the end.
I see the world now through bars on windows, chased back to a hiding place. I am in prison. I’ve been socially convicted of a crime worse than the nightmares of waking up dead: I was born Gay. I had no choice in the matter. I was born as Gay as the people murdered in a nightclub in Orlando. I am as Gay as the LGBTQ+ flags held by activists in India fighting Section 377. I am as LGBTQ as the Transgender woman murdered last month in Turkey. We are collective outlaws and ghosts of histories that will be rewritten, and our omissions, pain, oppression, repression, marginalization, and our battles to live will be written in statistics. That is where I am right now. I am between life and statistic. I wonder about my family who had fled to Uganda from Rwanda during the 1994 genocide where 800,000 existences became statistics, if they knew when they exiled me from their home at sixteen years old for being Gay that I would become a statistic too.
I don’t think my parents knew that, like them, I would fight to survive. I walked miles to the Ugandan capital Kampala with a small bag of my belongings. I survived hunger. I survived hunger. One night of hunger can only be summarized in an entire existence of hours and day long seconds passing into withering existence. I survived sexual exploitation by European tourists, men who were two and three times my sixteen, seventeen, and eighteen year old body. I survived the nights of wondering if this was all that life offered. I survived the nights where the voice of the earth responded to my “Why me?” with “How dare you, you’re still alive.” I saved my survival and transformed my existence into a passion for preservation. Now, my existence, passion and survival are in question. The dream of being a stylist in East Africa Fashion Week was lived. I was on my way to making it past survival, when I was identified and “outed” in “Red Pepper.” Red Pepper is a chronicle of homophobic rage published daily in Uganda. There was my picture, shared from my Facebook without my permission on a printed page. I made it! I didn’t know I had made it until the men that I didn’t know were following me in a market grabbed me. Two men held me while the rest took turns punching me, kicking me and spitting on me. My blood, dripping like a mural defiling my existence, fell onto the dirt. I watched each drop, by drop, by drop, as if each second was an eternity of an eternity of starvation. Then the last punch that I remember sent me out of the grip of the two men’s hands who were holding my limp body. On the floor between existence, survival, nightmare and a statistic, I felt a foot kick into my chest. I was still alive because I felt it. One man reached into my pocket and said, “Now we can find you anytime, homosexual,” as he took my wallet. I survived as they ran off.
I survived several more of those.
My phone would go off day and night, “We know where you are dirty homosexual.” Ring after startling ring. “We see you in the ripped jeans, we’re going to skin your homosexual ass.” I survived because I looked out the window first. I survived looking both ways, backwards and forwards. I survived because I would be home before dark. I walked out one morning forgetting that I made it and survived to see men waiting for me. I went back into the house. I decided I am leaving. I left. They stalked me. My Facebook image and that paper followed me. Isn’t making it wonderful? I was brutally beaten, this time close to death. I wanted to call the police because being imprisoned for being a homosexual was better than surviving as a homosexual in the social prison of Uganda. Then I remembered the stories of what it was like to be serving time in prison for being a homosexual.
I decided to survive again. A friend took me in and I have been inside ever since I walked in through the door. Now I look at freedom through the funnel of a window between walls caving in. Tomorrow, I will be moved to a new prison. I will look at life through a new window. The day after tomorrow, I will be transported again and again; I will see freedom through the funnel of a new window. I might become a statistic tomorrow. I may become one the day after. I am twenty years old. I have a name that I cannot say. A breath inwardly that exits outwardly second by second of an impossible existence.
Am I alive?